It's great to see plans move forward for a farmers' market in North Conway.
What's not so great is the organizers, after just one visit to the selectmen, gave up any expectations of getting any help or encouragement from the town.
The back story is local farmer Glen Mitchell and volunteer Will Abbott asked selectmen two weeks ago for help in locating a farmers' market at the town's Whitaker property. Having it there would eliminate the town's permitting fees and avoid scheduling conflicts with other events.
The meeting didn't go well, and the farmers have since chosen a new site — the North Conway Community Center, which will cost more money, including a $750 special-events permit they could have avoided by partnering with the town.
Several selectmen charged that The Conway Daily Sun's coverage mischaracterized the meeting. Two board members, Mary Seavey and Stacy Sand, wrote letters to the paper stating their support for the idea of a farmers' market. Sand also defended the selectmen's demeanor by saying it's their job to ask "hard questions," adding that "not a single selectman was against" the proposal.
If that is the case then clearly there is a disconnect between how the selectmen view their own behavior and the impression of others who watch and deal with them.
How hostile the selectmen were to the farmers is a matter of opinion, but it ought to give the selectmen pause to reflect on their style and approach if the farmers competely gave up trying to deal with them after just one meeting.
This disconnect suggests there is a leadership vacuum upstairs at town hall.
Conway is fortunate to have top level, experienced administrative staff, led by town manager Earl Sires, town engineer Paul DegliAngeli and town planner Tom Irving. It is their job to work out or investigate the details and potential problems that invariably arise from any new project or idea, including a farmers' market.
The board of selectmen, meanwhile, are the chief executives of the organization. They represents a constituency of 10,000 residents — customers, if you will. Their job is to inspire, create and encourage, not argue with residents until they go away.
Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 05:55
Because we appreciate the commitment and energy put in by our public officials, we try to put a positive spin even on our most critical editorials, but the selectmen's rejection of a farmers' market in North Conway is such a head-shaker that we're going to say as politely as we can what everyone is thinking.
How can the selectmen, be, so, well — not smart?
Local farmer Glen Mitchell and volunteer Will Abbott asked the selectmen to partner with a group of farmers and community members to help start a market at the Whitaker homesite.
Seems like a good thing. There are about 75 markets in communities across the state, including Berlin, which closes off a street in the summer, and whose community development director likens the market to an "open street fair."
Farmers' markets support local farmers, congregates people to downtowns — which stimulates business — and encourages everyone to eat healthful food, just to name a few of the good things they do.
But apparently not good enough for Conway. Our selectmen, none of whom — except newly elected Carl Thibodeau, who was silent on this one — have much business experience, rejected the idea mostly because of concerns about adversely affecting business.
Mike DiGregorio said he is concerned it will cannibalize local business. And Stacy Sand is worried it will hurt places like the Local Grocer, even though Local Grocer owner Heather Chase says a farmers market is a "fabulous idea."
Of course, selectmen could have checked in with chamber executive director Janice Crawford, who told us, "everyone was very excited about it from a business standpoint." She also called it a "great way to build traffic."
What should selectmen do now? We suggest they take the weekend to think it over, reconsider the positives and negatives of a farmers' markets, reflect on what people and businesses are saying, and then reconsider the idea at their next meeting.
Because what's worse than doing something not-so-smart is not fixing it.
Last Updated on Saturday, 27 April 2013 07:51
Of several strong candidates running for selectmen and police commission we endorse Carl Thibodeau and Dot Seybold.
We tip our hat to incumbent selectman Crow Dickinson and the decades of dedicated service he has offered the citizens of Conway, both at town hall and more than 16 terms in Concord as a state representative. His knowledge and experience have been invaluable, but, with a heavy heart, we feel it is time for new blood on the board.
The town would benefit of having the perspective of a successful Conway Village businessman on its governing board, and Thibodeau fits that bill. He's a guy used to getting things done, both in the private sector and the public sector — just look at the interconnect agreement between the North Conway Water Precinct and the Conway Village Fire District, which Thibodeau, a longtime commissioner, helped make happen.
Kevin Flanagan, meanwhile, the third candidate for selectman, is solid but doesn't measure up to Thibodeau's exprience. Flanagan has spent two years on the planning board and we encourage him to continue to gain experience on town boards and committees before taking another run at selectman.
Flanagan's key issue, however, that the town needs to join the 21st century by better organizing town records online, is a good one. We agree the board should make it a priority regardless who wins the election.
For police commission, there are two very strong choices, but, again, we're going with a new face and support Seybold over Larry Martin. She brings a wealth of business and board experience to the table; she is also outspoken, a quality we like, particularly on a board like the police commission that has a low public profile.
Martin has been an outstanding public official and undoubtedly would bring to the police commission the common sense approach he did serving 10 years as a selectman, but just like with the selectman's race, we're going with a candidate who is not only qualified but brings a different perspective.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 06:54
It is almost assured the average tax bill on a $200,000 property will go up this year by $240. That's a 12 percent increase in the tax rate, and the only way to slow down this out-of-control train is to find new people to run it.
Conway voters can start Tuesday by electing Joe Lentini and Mark Hounsell for the two open school board seats.
There are no guarantees, but a majority voting block of Lentini, Hounsell, plus incumbents John Skelton and Syndi White, who have proven to be independent and reform-minded thinkers, have more potential to shake things up than any board in recent memory.
The other candidate, incumbent Lynne Brydon, has shown quiet competency, but we would not support any incumbent who would not challenge this year's massive increase to taxpayers.
When choosing candidates, consider the track the school system is on and ask why voters should accept a school board that freezes like a deer in the headlights on budget matters.
The number of students is dropping and will drop more dramatically in the next few years. Kennett High School has about 75 fewer students than it did 10 years ago. But it's much worse at the elementary level. Conway Elementary is down from about 330 students in the early 2000s to 250 students now.
The outlying towns are faring no better. The result of decreasing enrollment in those towns and attendant lower tuition means they will send Conway $860,000 less than last year.
How the administration and school board can sit back and watch these trends develop over years and do nothing sums up why we support candidates like Lentini and Hounsell.
But it's more than spending we take issue with the current board. Among its cuts, the board trimmed English teacher Penny Kittle's responsibilities as curriculum coordinator for Conway schools. Kittle is widely considered one of the gems of Kennett High teaching corps, and to cut her out of curriculum development the same year we are losing the assistant superintendent, whose specialty is curriculum, doesn't make sense.
Lentini, Hounsell, Skelton and White are not one-trick pony, budget-cutters. We are absolutely convinced their end game is to provide Conway children with a quality education, one that rivals any in the state.
Vote Lentini and Hounsell. Vote for a majority block that will get on board with the concept that quality education means more than increasing the budget.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 06:45
But isn't that the tail wagging the dog, putting the cart before the horse and picking a vice president before the president?
After all, school superintendent Carl Nelson's contract is up in June 2014 and he is expected to retire, so doesn't it make sense at a minimum to wait for a new superintendent before hiring his or her second in command?
That's how teams are built — from the top down, and with these two key decisions so important to the future of our school system why would we risk hiring an assistant superintendent whose skills might not be compatible with the new superintendent or, just as important, who isn't compatible personally.
Before hiring anyone, we suggest the SAU and Conway school boards openly, and with input from the public, have a wide open discussion on priorities and the style of candidates that would best match them.
It is widely assumed Nelson was hired because he had experience building new schools. He did a great job; we've got a great a new school, but we don't need another one, so, obviously we're not going to hire a new superintendent who has special skills building schools.
What skill sets and strengths are we looking for? Do we want a reformer? A curriculum wizard? A budget specialist?
We suggest the boards start by zero basing both positions. Here's an example where starting from the ground up on even the most fundamental of issues helps.
Nelson is out five nights a week and weekends going to one meeting or another, sports events, ceremonies and concerts. He answers every phone call and is quoted more often in the paper more than anyone in town.
Yet, Gadomski, the highest paid public employee in the Valley besides Nelson and Bartlett school principal Joe Voci, lives 90 minutes away, which means he's mostly not available to "assist" with Nelson with anything outside the regular work day. That doesn't make sense.
Gadomski, we are told, is in charge of curriculum but we don't recall announcements or pronouncements of changes to curriculum coming out of his office.
If few people outside the school know what he actually does, including us, maybe it's time to rethink the position. Even to question whether we need an assistant or whether the position could be filled by a specialist part-time.
The other piece of logic that doesn't make sense is the justification that hiring a new assistant superintendent now will give Nelson time to train him or her before he leaves.
Then who trains the new superintendent? Perhaps new superintendents don't need training, but wouldn't an incoming superintendent's learning curve be shortened immeasurably if he or she were shown the ropes for a few months by one who's been here for more than a decade?
That's why we say hire the superintendent before hiring the assistant.
Finding and hiring a good superintendent is very difficult. The Manchester school system, for reasons unknown to us, just started its search over when after a months-long search one of the three finalists withdrew.
Starting the search now for a new superintendent here would accomplish the following:
1. Gives us plenty of time to find one.
2. Allows for flexibility in hiring the two positions: should an excellent candidate come up a little short on experience, perhaps he or she would be perfect for the assistant's job.
3. On the assumption a new superintendent is hired, it will easier, better and more effective to find an assistant superintendent with skills to complement his or hers.
4. Should a quality superintendent not be found, the SAU school board will still have time to negotiate with Nelson for him to stay another year.
Let's say we were fortunate to find a new superintendent who could start in September. Budget hawks would squawk about paying a premium to have, in effect, two superintendents on the payroll at the same time for nine months.
The response is the $20,000 to $30,000 premium is very, very short money because it will substantively increase the odds of hiring quality administrators who have a very big role in shaping education in the valley for at least the next five years.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 05:43